All through the preseason, K.C. Jones, coach of the champion Boston Celtics, acted the part of a worried man.
He worried about the no-repeat trend in the NBA for almost two decades, worried about injuries to several players and worried about how all the other teams improved.
True, three players were missing, but the Celtics celebrated the opening of the new season Friday night at Boston.
While Bill Walton, Scott Wedman and Danny Ainge were out with injuries, Larry Bird, as usual, was much in evidence. Bird had 24 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists and Dennis Johnson had 26 points to lead the Celtics to a 120-102 victory over the revamped Washington Bullets.
Before the game, the Celtics received rings for winning the league championship last spring for the 16th time in 30 seasons. They were given a standing ovation by an overflow crowd of 14,890 at ancient Boston Garden.
The fired-up Celtics jumped in front early, built a 52-39 lead, then faltered in the third quarter when the Bullets rallied and cut the lead to 78-71.
But Kevin McHale scored 10 of his 22 points to key a 42-point fourth quarter that enabled the Celtics, who were 40-1 at home last season, to get off to a winning start.
A factor in the Celtics' victory was a perfect 25-for-25 from the free-throw line. As usual, Bird led the way with nine.
"We like being the best," Jones said. "We're going to do all we can to remain on top."
In his debut with the Bullets, former Philadelphia 76ers star Moses Malone played 39 minutes, contributed 23 points and had 10 rebounds.
Guard Jeff Malone, who reached agreement on his contract just 24 hours before the season opened, came off the bench to score 17 points in 26 minutes for the Bullets.
Philadelphia 108, Indiana 104--Apparently, Julius Erving intends to go out in style. The veteran star of the 76ers announced this would be his last NBA season, then went out and sparked the 76ers to a victory in their season opener at Philadelphia.
Erving scored 8 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter to help the 76ers overcome a three-point deficit. With 4:09 left, Erving sank a three-point basket that gave the 76ers a 95-90 lead, and the young Pacers could never catch up.
Erving, 36, is starting his 16th pro season and is the No. 3 all-time pro basketball scorer.
Charles Barkley, who missed most of the exhibition season because of a foot injury, scored 31 points and had 12 rebounds for the 76ers.
The Pacers, playing their first game under Jack Ramsay, led most of the game. They were led by Herb Williams with 21 points.
Andrew Toney, who missed most of last season, was used sparingly by the 76ers but came off the bench in the fourth quarter to contribute 8 of his 12 points.
"I feel peaceful," Erving said. "The timing is right for me. It should be my last year. It may not be for my fans or my teammates, but it is time for me to retire."
Dallas 103, Utah 77--Maybe Utah Coach Frank Layden isn't as happy about the deal as he was at the time the Jazz traded Adrian Dantley to the Detroit Pistons for Kelly Tripucka.
In the absence of the two-time scoring champion, the Jazz scored a club-record-low 10 points in the first quarter of a lopsided defeat at Dallas.
Tripucka came off the bench to contribute 10 points for the Jazz, who made only 28 of 90 shots.
Mark Aguirre scored 18 points to lead the Mavericks but sat out the last quarter after the Mavericks built a 79-51 lead.
New Jersey 108, New York 97--Injuries have been a way of life for the Knicks the last two seasons, and the situation isn't getting any better.
In their opener at East Rutherford, N.J., center Patrick Ewing jammed his knee, played only 31 minutes and scored only 12 points.
Meanwhile, Net forward Buck Williams took charge. He scored 20 points and had 17 rebounds. Williams and newcomer Orlando Woolridge broke the game open in the third quarter when the Nets outscored the Knicks, 35-24.
Pearl Washington scored only 4 points and had 4 assists in 26 minutes in his debut with the Nets.
Milwaukee 120, Detroit 104--Although Sidney Moncrief has been having knee problems for the past two seasons, he managed to get 22 points in 35 minutes to lead the Bucks to victory at Pontiac, Mich.
Adrian Dantley scored 33 points in his debut for the Pistons. He made 10 of 18 shots, but the rest of the Pistons were 23 for 70.
Denver 134, San Antonio 104--The Nuggets romped to victory at Denver, but it was a costly one. Calvin Natt, who missed 13 games last season because of knee problems, suffered a torn Achilles' tendon in the third quarter and may be lost for the season.
The Nuggets also lost center Wayne Cooper in the second period, but his hamstring injury was not believed to be serious.
Lafayette Lever and Alex English, with 25 and 24 points, respectively, led the Nuggets.
Phoenix 127, Golden State 123--Walter Davis scored 27 points and Larry Nance 23 at Phoenix to lead the Suns to a hard-fought victory. Chris Mullin had 24 for the Warriors.
Seattle 127, Portland 110--Dale Ellis came off the bench to score 11 points in a third-quarter rally that led the SuperSonics to victory at Portland. The Sonics outscored the Blazers, 37-21, in the quarter.